Sunday, August 07, 2005

Work Flow and the Flat World

As I finish the first TaskStream-sponsored regional workshops for The REFLECT Initiative, I've realized that this particular customized system is more than an online digital archive, electronic portfolio and assessment management system. It is really a "work flow" manager, handling the flow of work from students to teachers and assessors. This whole idea of "work flow" in classroom-based assessment has not been emphasized enough. As I see the interconnectedness of the tools, I get a glimpse of an environment that has the potential to streamline the teaching/learning/assessment process. These are the types of tools that have revolutionized global business.

I've been wanting to make a blog entry about Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. As Friedman says, "the global playing field is being flattened" by the effective use of a variety of information and communications technologies. His book is subtitled, "a brief history of the twenty-first century." He outlines the ten flatteners that are revolutionizing the global supply chain of services and manufacturing since Y2K. His MITWorld Real video conference, recorded May 16, 2005, provides a good synopsis of his book, but I highly recommend reading the entire 473 pages. It is a fascinating look at the global economy where our students will need to compete in the future.

When I was at NECC, the head of the George Lucas Education Foundation recommended that all educators read this book. Friedman's chapters on education, that he calls "The Quiet Crisis" and "This is Not a Test" should be required reading of all teachers, principals, superintendents, parents... all of the stakeholders in education. He discusses some dirty little secrets, like the Numbers Gap (the low percentage of science and engineering degrees in the U.S. compared to India and China); the Ambition Gap (declining work ethic and career goals); and the Education Gap (not enough students in the pipeline with sufficient preparation for science, math and computing careers).

What does educational work flow management software have to do with the global economy? The challenge for education is to adapt to using information and communications technologies (ICT) to help narrow these gaps. It's not enough to just put computers into the hands of students and teachers. Businesses found that the presence of computers did not, by itself, make the difference; their productivity didn't increase until the underlying work flow and processes were revolutionized/re-engineered/transformed by ICT. Friedman's book is full of these examples in business. The challenge for us in education is to find those flatteners, before it is too late, when we can no longer afford it. The potential exists for using technology to provide all stakeholders with just-in-time information about student learning and achievement, while also providing an environment where students can track their own progress, assess their own work, and tell their own stories with pride through their online portfolios. Perhaps these tools could be one powerful flattener in education.

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